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Trump Makes Terrible, Unfounded Claims About Pershing Square's Namesake, Again

(Photo by Sterling Davis via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Downtown's Pershing Square is named for General John J. Pershing, an early 20th century U.S. Army general decorated for his service during World War I. He's also the unfortunate subject of a widely discredited myth about his odious treatment of Muslim "terrorists" sometime during or after the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902.

The "story," which involves using pig's blood as a weapon against Muslims, has been rated false by Snopes and "Pants on Fire" by Politifact's Truth-o-Meter. Veracity aside, it remains a favorite of President Trump's, and he referenced it again in a tweet on Thursday, following an apparent terrorist attack in Barcelona:

Trump further fleshed out his take on the unfounded Pershing claims (and, by extension, the example he would like his 36.1 million Twitter followers to act on) in February 2016, when he used the story as a means of justifying his support of waterboarding. Pershing, as Trump told a South Carolina rally, was a “rough guy, rough guy” fighting terrorism in the early 1900s. Here's how he described his understanding of the story, according to the Washington Post:

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“They were having terrorism problems, just like we do,” Trump said. “And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood — you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem.”

The then-candidate's "suggestion that executing Islamic terrorists using bullets soaked in pigs blood would be sign of toughness" was met with "astonishment from members of the American Muslim community" back in February of last year, according to the New York Times.

“Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric has crossed the line from spreading hatred to inciting violence,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at the time. “By directly stating that the only way to stop terrorism is to murder Muslims in graphic and religiously-offensive ways, he places the millions of innocent, law-abiding citizens in the American Muslim community at risk from rogue vigilantes.”

Trump is no longer just a candidate, and that line between spreading hatred and inciting violence has been crossed many times over. The story in question, however, remains unfounded.

"This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited," Brian McAllister Linn, a Texas A&M University historian and author of Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940, told Politifact. "This kind of thing would have run completely against [Pershing's] character," Christopher Einolf, another professor and the literal author of a book called America in the Philippines, 1899-1902: The First Torture Scandal, told Politifact.

"Even if the tale is true, the pacifying effect that Trump claims is nonsense," a third historian told Politifact. The region "remained in constant unrest during the period of American rule and into the period of independence, right down to the present."

Pershing Square, which was first dedicated for use under a different name in 1866, was formally renamed in honor of the World War I general in November 1918.